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Twitter Lists, good or bad?

I was lucky enough (or random enough) to be given access to a new Beta feature within Twitter called Lists. The Lists feature is similar to a compilation of features available by other means – create a list of interesting people to follow. For some details, and an interesting discussion, Robert Scoble shared some thoughts on Posterous.  What is novel, is that Lists can be shared publicly. The public part can also be done by some other third party sites, like Tweepml.org – but the user still follows people at the individual person level.

By creating and controlling Lists at the source, the equation has changed.

Sharing publicly, also means that if I use your list, I relinquish some amount of control to you. There is a ripple effect to this subtle change in control. Suppose I get a little lazy and decide to follow a list for local tweeps (near Burlington, Vermont, where I live). Someone spends the time to make the list, and I do not want to repeat the effort. Did I just give up control? I will now follow the Burlington Tweeps that that person decides (they can add and remove people).  Currently, I keep my own eye out for new folks, using a variety of hashtags – will I still add them to my list? Think about the impact to you and who you follow?

Will Twitter be creating a pseudo class system?

After reading the post, there are a number of interesting comments, but one caught my eye, by Andrew Mueller:

Lists make the utility of twitter much greater for the casual user who can identify a few highly curated lists and simply follow the list stream rather than the people. Once Tweetdeck, Seesmic and others integrate lists into their apps this could be done in columns in single streams. In this scenario it make sense that follower growth rates will decline. This may have broad implications for the twitter ecosystem. After all why should I curate a list of “Web Innovators” when Robert Scoble has done it for me!

…it will limit the discovery of new people to follow and could result in two classes of twitter citizens – those who are on list that are followed and those are not.

What are the implications of this change, for new users, and brands? I think that Brands will have a much tougher time, especially new entrants, as they will have a tougher time engaging. Andrew and I had an interesting interaction on Twitter based in this, which lead me to this post. The core problem is that for power users, who are creating the lists now (or when Twitter releases the function publicly) will represent a snapshot in time. Robert’s list of great programmers may grow, or possibly remain static. Hashtags offer a similar function, but they are not exclusive, they allow for new entrants.

It is not all bad

  • There are some interesting uses for lists as well. For conferences and events, the coordinator can create a list for people to follow. They could publish the List name far ahead of the conference and add potential twitters to the list.  No hashtag to worry about, and up to 5 more characters to use.
  • Brands and Companies will be able to share lists within an organization without everyone having to know who to follow. Marketing sends out a message “Hey, just follow http://twitter.com/mjayliebs/scrm” Big benefit to Social Service Communities.
  • Follow Friday and follow counts may go away, or be reduced in importance. With lists, you may not have follow counts that have the same meaning. You may have a lot more people following you than you know (blocked people will still not be able to see your tweet stream).

This will play itself out, for sure. But, the impact is bigger than it first appears. I know some of the people I interact with might not use lists, or might not use them extensively. Innovation and collaboration with NEW people will take a hit. New people will start with lists and might be less inclined to interact one on one.

What are your thoughts? What are the impacts to transparency (you can add to list without a follow)?

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  1. October 19, 2009 at 8:20 am

    A couple of comments…

    1. lists are actually being made more important that they actually are, IMO, since we don’t have more than a theoretical sense of how they will be received. Sure, I expect to see lots of lists and people following them initially. Let’s talk 2-3 months out when we first start to notice that there are “political” implications to being named to a list or not – and that I am now missing some people I want to add to a list that is not mine. No can do, more than likely, or maintenance would be unbearable. As an end user of that list that “was perfect” until I saw the problems, I am likely to stop following that and begin to curate my own.

    I foresee a 6-month timeframe for people realize they should do their own lists — with very few exceptions.

    2. I remember seeing something around the Twit-world that lists would only be useful for communities and I cannot for the love of me figure it out. Can you dig a little big deeper on that? Want to understand the thought process.

    All in all, with as many problems as Twitter has to focus on lists first seems irresponsible — but it may just be the slight-of-hand they need to hunker down, focus on one of the core problems and solve it without people telling them how and when to do what.

    Then again, it may just also signal the beginning-of-the-end for Twitter as it becomes irrelevant, with groups but lacking search and context, not to mention semantics.

    just a thought… or two.

  2. October 30, 2009 at 2:32 pm

    The idea of lists is interesting since it lets you identify specific people to follow for a specific purpose. However, I’m already doing that with TweetDeck…and in my mind TD does it better.

    In the same app, I can segment my stream with group columns filled with specific users but I can also segment by hashtags. The nice thing, though, is all the segmented streams show up in the same app.

    Therein lies the problem with Twitter lists. You can aggregate them into columns for easy viewing.

    There is potential value for Twitter lists, though, and that’s to share them. It valuable to tap into someone else’s list in a new area of interest to jump start who some of the community members are. But even then, sharing them right now is a bit clunky.

  1. October 18, 2009 at 8:13 pm

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